Risk-based: Foodborne illness strategy in Australia

Foodborne illness is a global public health burden. Over the past decade in Australia, despite advances in microbiological detection and control methods, there has been an increase in the incidence of foodborne illness. Therefore improvements in the regulation and implementation of food safety policy are crucial for protecting public health.

aust-food-safetyIn 2000, Australia established a national food safety regulatory system, which included the adoption of a mandatory set of food safety standards. These were in line with international standards and moved away from a “command and control” regulatory approach to an “outcomes-based” approach using risk assessment. The aim was to achieve national consistency and reduce foodborne illness without unnecessarily burdening businesses.

Evidence demonstrates that a risk based approach provides better protection for consumers; however, sixteen years after the adoption of the new approach, the rates of food borne illness are still increasing. Currently, food businesses are responsible for producing safe food and regulatory bodies are responsible for ensuring legislative controls are met. Therefore there is co-regulatory responsibility and liability and implementation strategies need to reflect this. This analysis explores the challenges facing food regulation in Australia and explores the rationale and evidence in support of this new regulatory approach.

Australian food safety policy changes from a “command and control” to an “outcomes-based” approach: Reflection on the effectiveness of its implementation

Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2016, 13(12), 1218; doi:10.3390/ijerph13121218

James Smith, Kirstin Ross and Harriet Whiley

http://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/13/12/1218/htm

Darwin parents urged to vacuum up gecko and frog poo amid spike in Salmonella cases

Darwin is in northern Australia.

It’s close to the equator.

geckoIt’s hot.

ABC News reports Top End parents are being urged to vacuum up tiny brown and white droppings of gecko poo amid an above-average rise in salmonella cases affecting young children.

Darwin annually records above national average rates of salmonella, especially among children under five during the humid months around Christmas.

This wet season is no different, however the past month has seen an unexpected rise in cases.

“We’re getting about 50 per cent more than we’d expect at the moment,” Dr Peter Markey, head of disease surveillance at the NT Centre for Disease Control, said.

There are many different strands of salmonella, with the disease’s spread generally linked to contaminated food, warm conditions, polluted water, unclean surfaces and the spread of faecal matter.

Symptoms include fever, diarrhoea, vomiting and dehydration, with children and the elderly especially badly affected.

Dr Markey said Top End-specific research conducted by the centre in recent years had identified many well-known risk factors.

“We’ve isolated salmonella from geckos, lizards, snakes. Dogs and cats and turtles are important carriers too. Goldfish even, because aquarium water can be contaminated.”

Dr Markey said young children handling pets and then not washing their hands would often lead to them getting sick, however some might be getting sick from actually eating tiny animal faeces.

Gecko poo is generally elongated and brown, sometimes with a tip of white, and is often mistaken for mouse or rat droppings.

“Toddlers of course live on the ground and crawl around and put anything in their mouths,” Dr Markey said.

“We showed that regular vacuuming can help.

“It’s important to get that gecko poo or the frog poo off the ground or balcony.”

 

Surveys still suck: Australians identify ingredients hate list, so retailers can make a buck

Nielsen research has found almost half of Australian consumers wish there were more “all natural” food products on supermarket shelves.

trump-snake-oilA reflection of the way the question was asked.

Would you like all natural food products that contained dangerous microorganisms?

Probably not.

The findings from the Global Health and Ingredient Sentiment Survey show Australians are adopting a “back-to-basics mindset”, focusing on simple ingredients says Nielsen.

Close to nine in 10 respondents said they avoid specific ingredients because they believe them to be harmful to their own or their family’s health, while six in 10 consumers said they are concerned about the long-term health impact of artificial ingredients in their diet.

“Informed and savvy consumers are demanding more from the foods they eat and are happy to pay more if they believe it is better for them,” said Michael Elam-Rye, associate director – retail at Nielsen.

They are not informed; they are responding to what grocery stores, TV, the Internet and friends tell them.

But in a Donald Trump era, it’s a fact-free world.

Trump won because he told people what they wanted to hear.

People embrace natural foods and are anti-vaccine because someone is telling them what they want to hear.

It’s seductive.

And it’s big bucks for the purveyors of food porn – farmers, processors, retailers – especially retailers – and media outlets that make a buck telling people what they want to hear.

I get it. I’ve always said – since I was about 20-years-old – getting attention in the public domain is a mixture of style and substance. Scientists can work on their style, everyone else can work on their substance (and just because you eat does not make you an expert).

But substance has to win out, about 60-40.

It’s a peculiarity that society expects bridges and other engineering feats, along with medicine, to be exceeding current and revolutionary, yet many expect to produce food as in the old days.

trump-special-kind-stupidIt’s not peculiar: it’s advertising, messaging and manipulation.

John Defore writes about a new documentary Food Evolution, which defends the place of genetically engineered food in agriculture.

Neil deGrasse Tyson – who seamlessly blends the 60-40 suggestion of substance over style – and director Scott Hamilton Kennedy challenge enviro-activist orthodoxy, much in the same way I’ve been doing for 30 years.

But they’re more skilled at the style.

Food Evolution sounds on paper like it might be one of those hack-job rebuttals in which moneyed right-wing interests disguise propaganda as a documentary. Many on the left will likely dismiss it as such, which is a shame … the movie makes an excellent case against those who seek blanket prohibitions against genetically modified organisms — and … against those of us who support such bans just because we assume it’s the eco-conscious thing to do.

[I]t investigates the motives of some prominent anti-GMO activists — like those who are “very entrepreneurial,” finding ways to make money off fears the film believes are baseless, or like researcher Chuck Benbrook, whose work was financed by companies making billions from customers afraid of GMOs.

Hope bridges don’t start falling down because people want them more natural.

The folks who did the survey say, “This presents an opportunity for food manufacturers to increase share by offering and marketing products that are formulated with good-for-you ingredients, and an opportunity for retailers to trade consumers up with more premium priced products.”

snakeoilTell lies. Bend rules. Make a buck.

Trump is the embodiment for the times.

Top 10 ingredients Australian consumers avoid:

Antibiotics/hormones in animals products

MSG

Artificial preservatives

Artificial flavours

Artificial sweeteners

Foods with BPA packaging

Artificial colours

Sugar

Genetically modified foods

Sodium

I avoid dangerous microorganisms, which sicken 1-out-of-8 people every year.

That’s a lot of barfing.

And it’s not on the list.

Data says so: Australia does have a raw egg problem

Statistics show that the consumption of foods containing raw or minimally cooked eggs is currently the single largest source of foodborne Salmonella outbreaks in Australia.

garlic_aioliI based a large part of my research career on verifying the soundbite, ‘we have released guidelines’ or, ‘we follow all recommendations’ by arranging to have students see what actually goes on.

In October 2014, the New South Wales Food Authority released Food Safety Guidelines for the Preparation of Raw Egg Products (the Guidelines). Despite this, outbreaks continued to take place, particularly where business hygiene and temperature control issues were apparent. In addition, businesses and councils approached the Food Authority for advice on desserts containing raw eggs and other unusual raw egg dishes. As a result, the Guidelines were recently updated and give specific reference to Standard 3.2.2, Division 3, clause 7 of the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code to ensure that only safe and suitable food is processed.

To reduce the risk of foodborne illness outbreaks caused by Salmonella, retail businesses are advised to avoid selling food containing raw or minimally cooked eggs. The Guidelines give food businesses that do sell food containing raw egg specific safety steps for its preparation and clear guidance and advice on what they must do to meet food safety regulations. The revised Food Safety Guidelines for the Preparation of Raw Egg Products is available at www. foodauthority.nsw.gov.au/_Documents/ retail/raw_egg_guidelines.pdf.

raw-eggsOr as the Australian Food Safety Information Council now says, buy, don’t make aioli or mayonnaise.

This is nice but of no use to consumers at a restaurant who order fish and chips  with a side of mayo or aioli. I’ve already begun an ad hoc investigation – because I don’t want my family to get sick – and can say that out of the 15 times I’ve asked over the past few years – is the aioli or mayo made at the restaurant or bought commercially – the server invariably returns and proclaims, We only use raw eggs in our aioli or mayo.

Wrong answer.

Only once, so far, has an owner or chef said, we know of the risk, we only use the bought stuff. And they’re ex-pat Canadians.

Giv’r, eh.

A table of Australian egg outbreaks is available at http://barfblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/raw-egg-related-outbreaks-australia-10-9-15.xlsx

Country Tonk: Australian coroner criticises woman who made toxic ‘moonshine’ contributed to deaths of 3 people in 2015

The Deputy State Coroner has delivered a scathing report into deaths of three people in western New South Wales:

moonshine-australiaFound the consumption of “moonshine” contributed to their deaths

Woman who supplied homemade booze “targeted people with alcoholism”

Magistrate Helen Barry also said more people could die without tougher rules on the purchase of stills that are used to make alcohol.

An inquest found the illegal sale of homemade alcohol contributed to the deaths of the three residents of an Indigenous reserve near Collarenebri in February and March last year. They were aged in their 30s and 40s.

Norman Boney, his sister Sandra Boney and her partner Roger Adams consumed an unknown quantity of “moonshine” in the months before their deaths. It was supplied by another woman, Mary Miller.

Ms Miller denied selling the alcohol, but the coroner found “the overwhelming and only conclusion is that Mary Miller was in fact selling moonshine (homebrew) to the residents of Walli Reserve during the period of 2014 and 2015”.

Lavinia Flick, who was related to Mr Adams, earlier told the inquest the deaths had a huge impact on the community.

“The sadness that you feel, there are no words for it,” she said.

“Mary opened her shop the next day after they died like it was nothing.”

Ms Barry said it is impossible to disagree with Ms Flick’s conclusion that: “Mary targeted people with alcoholism. She targeted people with an addiction and disease. It was our people that were affected by it.”

The inquest was told distilling alcohol without a licence is illegal and easy to get wrong.

Professor Ian Whyte from the Department of Clinical Toxicology and Pharmacology at Calvary Mater Hospital in Newcastle gave evidence at the hearing.

“A relatively small dose can cause blindness and ultimately death.”

‘Gap in the legislation’ could have ‘fatal consequences’

The coroner said it was legal to purchase a still that holds less than 5 litres for the purpose of distilling water or essential oils.

But in practice, it can be used to illegally manufacture alcohol and “because there is no licensing requirement, that activity is likely to remain undetected unless there is a catastrophic event such as in the loss of lives such as those of Sandra, Norman and Roger”.

“Because of the gap in the legislation, there is the potential for fatal consequences.”

Ms Barry said she would send these findings to the Commonwealth Attorney-General and Minister for Finance for their consideration.

Raw (milk) is risky: Scotch and a smoke for your 5-year-old?

In April 1986, three classes of kindergarten and pre-K schoolchildren visited a dairy farm near Sarnia, Ontario (that’s in Canada, although it feels like grungy U.S.).

colbert-raw_-milk_1As recounted by David Waltner-Toews in his 1992 book, Food, Sex and Salmonella, “It was a typical Ontario farm, with 67 cows and calves, some chickens, some pigs, all well-cared for an clean, and seemed the perfect place to take a class of preschoolers. In April of 1986, 62 pre-school children and 12 supervising adults visited this farm. They played in the barn, petted the calves, pulled at the cows’ teats, and gathered a few eggs. For a break, they drank milk (right from the farmer’s tank!) and ate egg cookies (sliced hard-boiled eggs cleverly renamed to induce children to eat them). A good time was had by all.

“Within the next two weeks, 42 children and four adults came down with abdominal cramps and diarrhea. Three of the children ended up in the hospital with hemolytic uremic syndrome. One of the children fell into a coma. All eventually recovered. The bacterium blamed for these misfortunes called verotoxin-producing E. coli, or VTEC.

“Public health investigators looked everywhere on the farm. Although they found only two calves carrying the organism, they decided that exposure to the unpasteurized milk was the most plausible explanation for what they saw. And yet the farm family, which drank that milk every day, was apparently healthy and not shedding VTEC.”

The public health version states that “after extensive sampling at the farm the only samples that were positive for E. coil O157:H7 were stool samples taken from two calves at the dairy farm. Agriculture Canada veterinarians collected the animal stool samples and also checked the herd for Brucellosis.

“To control the spread of the E. coil the three classes were closed at the school for about three, weeks. All the affected children and their families were restricted in their contact with the community until the affected family member(s) has three successive negative stool samples. These restrictions imposed by the Lambton Health Unit quickly controlled the spread of the E. coll. Thus by mid-June all families were negative for E, coli and by mid-July the three children with HUS had returned home from the hospital.”

This outbreak was noteworthy in that dairy farms in Ontario stopped serving raw milk to visiting school children.

As one of my many dairy farmer friends have told me, when the schools visit, we go to town and buy some (pasteurized) milk.

Thirty years later and the same nonsense is still being debated, in Tasmania (that’s in Australia).

Rhiana Whitson of ABC News reported earlier this month a Tasmanian farmer who demonstrates milking cows to children, giving them a “squirt” from the udder, has fallen foul of health authorities who have warned he is at risk of losing his business if he does not stop.

huon-valley-caravan-park-aRowen Carter (left, exactly as shown) runs the Huon Valley Caravan Park, south of Hobart, which he said is “more than just a caravan park, we are a self-sufficient working farm that wants to teach people where real food comes from.”

Maybe Rowen should teach microbiology and Louis Pasteur.

Carter offers paying guests homemade Persian fetta made with raw milk, as well as a taste of raw cow’s milk straight from the udder’s teat.

“I squirt it in their mouth and then afterwards I appear with some plastic cups and show them the more couth way of tasting the fresh milk … everybody is amazed at how sweet and how nice it is,” Mr Carter said.

But his attempt to provide guests with an “old-fashioned farm experience” has landed him in trouble with the Tasmanian Dairy Industry Authority (TDIA).

Mr Carter denied selling raw milk and insisted his guests freely choose to sample it.

“It’s been taken away from us, the right to choose,” he said.

“I think people should be allowed to taste it … they don’t have to taste it, it’s their choice and it’s their choice to let their children have a taste.”

The sale of unpasteurised milk products for human consumption is illegal in Australia, however the use of raw milk in various products has continued with some arguing the risks have been overstated.

smoke-pancake-austinHealth authorities and experts have warned raw milk poses a health risk, especially to children. A boy died in 2014 after drinking raw milk, marketed as bath milk, labelled as being for “cosmetic use only”.

Mr Carter said the tasting of the milk straight from the cow was a “highlight of the day” for guests.

“There is always the question ‘can we do the milk squirting again tomorrow?’

“Now we have to tell them because it is deemed we are selling the milk, squirting is now no longer.

“How can something that brings so much joy be so wrong?”

Search raw milk on barfblog.com and find out how wrong it can be.

In a facebook post, Carter wrote, “I can legally allow you to sit at my dining room table and offer you a can of coke and a cigarette but I am unable to offer you a glass of fresh (raw) milk and a scone with clotted cream according to Tasmanian Dairy Industry Authority acting chairman Mark Sayer.”

Raw milk and other weird parental dietary preferences disproportionally affect the kids.

It’s always the kids.

Mr. Carter, drink all the raw milk you like, I don’t care, I provide information.

But as parents, we generally don’t have a scotch and a smoke with 5-year-olds.

And stop with the squirting references, especially around kids: it’s  just weird.

It’s still 1978 here in Australia; or 1803 in Tasmania.

Pulling a Britney: Changing diapers on a cafe table is a microbiologically bad thing

Someone pulled a Britney – our term in honor of Britney Spears, who in 2006 thought it was OK to change a baby’s diaper on a restaurant table – in Brisbane and the owner wants the mom to never return.

britney-crazy-8Darren Cartwright of the Courier Mail reports a mother of a newborn baby wrote a scathing review on Google about Park Bench Espresso Bar in Bulimba for the reception she received for changing her baby in front of dining customers.

The review first praises the quality of the coffee before taking aim at owner Jocelyn Ridgway and other customers. She says her baby is 12-weeks old and that she put a mat down before changing the nappy.

“I approached her (the manager) upon leaving and asked if she had a problem with my baby and I sitting there. She said in quite a critical tone, that she didn’t think it was appropriate to change my baby there,” the review states.

“To this woman and the 2 other customers who made comments regarding this. Mothers don’t need your judgment or criticism. We have enough pressure and stress we deal with on a daily basis. We rarely get the opportunity to get out and have a coffee amidst the long list of things we are doing for our families every single day.

“I am sorry (not sorry) you are so terribly offended by a tiny baby’s tiny little dirty nappy that you think it necessary to criticise.”

Ms Ridgway told AAP the lady was at the coffee shop for two hours last Friday.

“She was there that long the baby did two poos,” Ms Ridgway said.

“There were people next to her. We had complaints from a group of older women who did not think it was that great.”

The coffee shop is an extension of Green Grass and Home Body retail store which Ms Ridgway started 15 years ago.

diaperThe al fresco area opened up in 2011 and a park, with several sheltered tables, is located directly across the road.

Since Ms Ridgway shared the review on Facebook with friends, she’s said she’s had nothing but support.

“I know in my heart that that was not cool. It’s an etiquette thing. She won’t be back as a customer, that’s fine. I can’t afford to have customers like her anyway,” she said.

2016 Thanksgiving turkey extravaganza combining Canadian, American and whatever it is Australia celebrates in honor of the harvest

Thanksgiving has always been our favorite holiday, a celebration of the feast, but there’s no damn turkeys in Brisbane for Canadian Thanksgiving, and it’s too damn hot to be cooking for American Thanksgiving at the end of November.

history-of-white-people-in-americaThere are also practical considerations.

Whole turkeys have started showing up in Coles and Woolies – the Australian  duopoly — in the past two weeks at about $10/kg; in North America they’re about $2.00/kg, but I may be aging myself.

Five years ago, I specially sourced a whole turkey for Canadian Thanksgiving in early Oct., in Brisbane, and it was about $20/kg. Never again.

Thanksgiving (French: Action de grâce), or Thanksgiving Day (Jour de l’action de grâce) is an annual Canadian holiday, occurring on the second Monday in October, which celebrates the harvest and other blessings of the past year.

Thanksgiving has been officially celebrated as an annual holiday in Canada since November 6, 1879, when parliament passed a law designating a national day of thanksgiving, although the first Canadian Thanksgiving is thought by some to have occurred on Baffin Island in 1578 while some English dudes were looking for the Northwest Passage.

The first Thanksgiving Day after Canadian Confederation was observed as a civic holiday on April 5, 1872, to celebrate the recovery of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) from a serious illness.

Bloddy Monarchs.

amy-turkey-citrus-16According to wikii, tthe event that Americans commonly call First Thanksgiving was celebrated by the Pilgrims after their first harvest in the New World in 1621.[4] This feast lasted three days, and—as accounted by attendee Edward Winslow[5]—it was attended by 90 Native Americans and 53 Pilgrims.[6]

On Sat. Nov. 19 – it was the best date to fit around hockey schedules while accommodating the Canadian feast and the 6-week American orgy of food and shopping that begins this coming Thurs – we gathered 40 of our Australian friends at a local park on the river, and had a feast.

The two 10kg turkeys were purchased on Tues., Nov.15.

They sat on the counter for 12 hours and then 3-4 days in the fridge.

Amy made butter tarts, a carrot salad and a citrus-based turkey the day before.

Saturday, I was on the ice at 6.am. and then came home (sore) to make my bird, a traditional Alton-Brown-based variety (I like his science).

I took Amy to the park at 11ish a.m., to stake out BBQ and table space. (Brisbane has fabulous parks, especially along the river, because they have a 500-year-flood every 50 years, so parks better than houses. These parks have the best bathrooms, sanitation and free BBQs than in any other city I’ve been in.)

By our 1 p.m. start time, I had two turkeys, a gluten-free and a regular dressing (because it wasn’t inside the bird), and the best gravy I’ve ever made.

When I delivered to the park, people had started assembling, kids were running around, the river breezes were cool as Brisbane moves into summer,

dpturkey-16As I had written to our guests in the invite, “Think of it as a giant pot-luck, but you better practice decent food safety – no raw egg dishes, including homemade mayo, aioli or sauces – or your dish is consigned to the bin and covered in bleach (because that’s how health inspectors roll).

“The deal is, we’ve invited a bunch of people, and we’ll do it at Tennyson Park so the kids can run around.

Amy and I along with the capable assistance of chef Alex will bring the tip-sensitive digital thermometer-verified safe turkey (and gravy, you can’t overcook a turkey, that’s what the gravy’s for). Two kinds of stuffing – one gluten-free, one regular, which will be cooked outside of the bird (food safety 101).

thanksgiving-nov-16I mangled the turkey Amy cooked Friday night, and once I had started carving into the one I cooked Saturday a.m., a hockey parent who knows his why around a bird kindly asked, ”Would you like me to take over?

“Yes.”

The other families bring something: rolls, mashed potatoes, salad, cooked carrots, green beans, apple pie, beverages, cutlery, whatever, as long as it is microbiologically safe. And wash your damn hands before everyone gets hepatitis A (we’re vaccinated, the rest are on your own; for a pre-meal vindication, I can explain how hep A is spread amongst humans).

Oh, and I’ve got a face for radio and a voice for print. But it was fun.

However, in the videobelow,  I was trying to say, “You may know me because I coach your kid in hockey,” not “hit your kid in hockey.

Editing.

We are thankful to have so many and great friends in Brisbane.